Thursday, November 29, 2012

961. Cuba Fall Canine Expo Celebrates Shih Tzus To Schnauzers In Dog Show

By Associated Press, November 26, 2012
HAVANA -- The Cuban capital has played host to political summits and art festivals, ballet tributes and international baseball competitions. Now dog lovers are getting their chance to take center stage.
Hundreds of people from all over Cuba and several other countries came to a scruffy field near Revolution Plaza this past week to preen and fuss over the shih tzus, beagles, schnauzers and cocker spaniels that are the annual Fall Canine Expo's star attractions. There were even about a dozen bichon habaneros, a mid-sized dog bred on the island since the 17th century.
As dog lovers talked shop, the merely curious strolled the field, checking out the more than 50 breeds on display while carefully dodging the prodigious output of so many dogs.
The four-day competition, which ended Sunday, included competitions in several breeding categories, and judges were flown in from Nicaragua, Colombia and Mexico.
"This is a small, poor country, but Cubans love dogs," said Miguel Calvo, the president of Cuba's dog federation, which organized the show. "We make a great effort to breed purebred animals of quality."
Winners don't receive any trophy or prize money, but that doesn't mean the competition is any less fierce.
Anabel Perez, owner of a cocker spaniel named Lisamineli after the U.S. actress, spent more than half an hour coifing the dog's hair in preparation for the competition, while the owner of a shih tzu named Tiguer meticulously brushed his coat nearby.
"I'm a hairdresser for humans," explained Tiguer's owner, Miguel Lopez. "So it's easy for me. I like shih tzus because they are a lot of work to keep well groomed."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

960. The Worldwide Vulnerability of Forests

Dying forest in northern Canada

By Justin Gillis, The New York Times, November 23, 2012
One of the great scientific tasks of the day is to understand how and why trees die. It may seem like a question that would have been answered many decades ago, but it was not — at least not at a detailed physiological level. Now, amid growing signs worldwide that forests are at risk as the climate changes, scientists are trying to catch up to events.
Lately, more and more evidence is pointing toward a mechanism known as hydraulic failure as the culprit in many large-scale forest die-backs. This occurs when drought reduces the flow of water into tree roots. The trees take measures to limit the loss of water through their leaves, but trees need water flowing through them as much as humans need blood. Eventually, if the drought is bad enough, the tiny tubes that carry water up the trunk of the plant can fill with air bubbles.
Detailed understanding of this mechanism may still be developing, but anybody who has forgotten to water a house plant has seen the consequences. The flow of water through the body of the plant is interrupted, and unless moisture is restored to the soil, it can droop and eventually die.
Now comes a surprising new paper from an international research team presenting ominous findings about the risks to forests from global warming and its accompanying water stress.

For the study, released online on Thursday by the journal Nature, Brendan Choat of the University of Western Sydney in Australia, Steven Jansen of Ulm University in Germany, and a large group of their colleagues compiled data from 226 forest species at 81 sites worldwide. They found that around 70 percent of the species operate with only a narrow margin of safety when it comes to their water supply. In other words, many of the world’s important forest species are vulnerable to hydraulic failure.
In effect, the trees have adopted an aggressive evolutionary strategy, creating robust water-moving machinery that allows them to grow quickly and out-compete other trees during times of adequate rainfall, but putting them at risk of dying when water is scarce.
That means that virtually all types of forests, even in regions that seem to get plenty of rain today, are vulnerable to increased drought and increased evaporation driven by higher temperatures. If the changes in rainfall and soil moisture in coming decades turn out to be as big as many scientists fear, the Choat-Jansen paper implies that the result could be massive die-backs, shifts in the composition of forests, and a transition from forest to grassland in many regions.
That may sound alarmist, but a developing body of evidence suggests that it is already starting to happen. Last year, for example, I wrote about the large forest die-backs that are being seen in the American West and the Pacific Northwest because of mountain pine beetles, an insect pest that is moving farther north because of global warming.
We are also seeing huge impacts on forests from water stress in the Mediterranean, the Amazon and many other regions.
William R.L. Anderegg, a Stanford University researcher who was uninvolved in the new paper but is doing related work, told me he saw the new research as “a major step forward” in gaining a more complete global understanding of the risks to forests from climate change.
The new paper “tells us that many, many tree species live close to the dry edge of what they can tolerate, even if they live in a very wet area,” Mr. Anderegg said in an e-mail. It makes evolutionary sense, he added, because “no matter your environment as a tree, you would want to maximize your growth in order to compete with other trees, while still narrowly avoiding death from water stress. The practical and critical outcome of this is that trees and forests, globally, appear to all be relatively vulnerable to drought-induced mortality.”
Climate change puts at risk not only the rich diversity of life in the world’s forests, but also the ability of those forests to suck carbon dioxide out of the air, as they do today in immense volume, helping to limit global warming. In other words, if forests start dying from global warming, that means the warming will get worse, presumably killing more forests — a dangerous feedback loop.
“The consequences of longer droughts and higher temperatures are potentially dramatic,” Dr. Choat, Dr. Jansen and their colleagues wrote in the new paper. “For example, rapid forest collapse as a result of drought could convert the world’s tropical forests from a net carbon sink into a large carbon source during this century.”
The big question now is how much ability the world’s trees have to adapt. In theory, one might imagine that young trees growing under drought stress would shift their architecture in ways that would limit their risk. But whether they really have the genetic capacity to do this, or to do it quickly enough to keep up with the rapid climatic shifts projected for coming decades, is an open issue.
A distinct possibility, the scientists wrote, is that “the rapid pace of climate change may outstrip the capacity of populations to adapt.”
In a commentary accompanying the paper, Bettina M.J. Engelbrecht of the University of Bayreuth in Germany, who was not involved in the research, writes that the accumulating scientific evidence sounds “a warning bell that we can expect to see forest diebacks become more widespread, more frequent and more severe — and that no forests are immune.”

959. Scientists See Promise in Deep-Learning Programs

Robots are common in automobile manufacturing
By John Markoff, The New York Times, November 23, 2012

Using an artificial intelligence technique inspired by theories about how the brain recognizes patterns, technology companies are reporting startling gains in fields as diverse as computer vision, speech recognition and the identification of promising new molecules for designing drugs.

The advances have led to widespread enthusiasm among researchers who design software to perform human activities like seeing, listening and thinking. They offer the promise of machines that converse with humans and perform tasks like driving cars and working in factories, raising the specter of automated robots that could replace human workers.
The technology, called deep learning, has already been put to use in services like Apple’s Siri virtual personal assistant, which is based on Nuance Communications’ speech recognition service, and in Google’s Street View, which uses machine vision to identify specific addresses.
But what is new in recent months is the growing speed and accuracy of deep-learning programs, often called artificial neural networks or just “neural nets” for their resemblance to the neural connections in the brain.
“There has been a number of stunning new results with deep-learning methods,” said Yann LeCun, a computer scientist at New York University who did pioneering research in handwriting recognition at Bell Laboratories. “The kind of jump we are seeing in the accuracy of these systems is very rare indeed.”
Artificial intelligence researchers are acutely aware of the dangers of being overly optimistic. Their field has long been plagued by outbursts of misplaced enthusiasm followed by equally striking declines.
In the 1960s, some computer scientists believed that a workable artificial intelligence system was just 10 years away. In the 1980s, a wave of commercial start-ups collapsed, leading to what some people called the “A.I. winter.”
But recent achievements have impressed a wide spectrum of computer experts. In October, for example, a team of graduate students studying with the University of Toronto computer scientist Geoffrey E. Hinton won the top prize in a contest sponsored by Merck to design software to help find molecules that might lead to new drugs.
From a data set describing the chemical structure of 15 different molecules, they used deep-learning software to determine which molecule was most likely to be an effective drug agent.
The achievement was particularly impressive because the team decided to enter the contest at the last minute and designed its software with no specific knowledge about how the molecules bind to their targets. The students were also working with a relatively small set of data; neural nets typically perform well only with very large ones.
“This is a really breathtaking result because it is the first time that deep learning won, and more significantly it won on a data set that it wouldn’t have been expected to win at,” said Anthony Goldbloom, chief executive and founder of Kaggle, a company that organizes data science competitions, including the Merck contest.
Advances in pattern recognition hold implications not just for drug development but for an array of applications, including marketing and law enforcement. With greater accuracy, for example, marketers can comb large databases of consumer behavior to get more precise information on buying habits. And improvements in facial recognition are likely to make surveillance technology cheaper and more commonplace.
Artificial neural networks, an idea going back to the 1950s, seek to mimic the way the brain absorbs information and learns from it. In recent decades, Dr. Hinton, 64 (a great-great-grandson of the 19th-century mathematician George Boole, whose work in logic is the foundation for modern digital computers), has pioneered powerful new techniques for helping the artificial networks recognize patterns.
Modern artificial neural networks are composed of an array of software components, divided into inputs, hidden layers and outputs. The arrays can be “trained” by repeated exposures to recognize patterns like images or sounds.
These techniques, aided by the growing speed and power of modern computers, have led to rapid improvements in speech recognition, drug discovery and computer vision.
Deep-learning systems have recently outperformed humans in certain limited recognition tests.
Last year, for example, a program created by scientists at the Swiss A. I. Lab at the University of Lugano won a pattern recognition contest by outperforming both competing software systems and a human expert in identifying images in a database of German traffic signs.
The winning program accurately identified 99.46 percent of the images in a set of 50,000; the top score in a group of 32 human participants was 99.22 percent, and the average for the humans was 98.84 percent.

This summer, Jeff Dean, a Google technical fellow, and Andrew Y. Ng, a Stanford computer scientist, programmed a cluster of 16,000 computers to train itself to automatically recognize images in a library of 14 million pictures of 20,000 different objects. Although the accuracy rate was low — 15.8 percent — the system did 70 percent better than the most advanced previous one.

Deep learning was given a particularly audacious display at a conference last month in Tianjin, China, when Richard F. Rashid, Microsoft’s top scientist, gave a lecture in a cavernous auditorium while a computer program recognized his words and simultaneously displayed them in English on a large screen above his head.
Then, in a demonstration that led to stunned applause, he paused after each sentence and the words were translated into Mandarin Chinese characters, accompanied by a simulation of his own voice in that language, which Dr. Rashid has never spoken.
The feat was made possible, in part, by deep-learning techniques that have spurred improvements in the accuracy of speech recognition.
Dr. Rashid, who oversees Microsoft’s worldwide research organization, acknowledged that while his company’s new speech recognition software made 30 percent fewer errors than previous models, it was “still far from perfect.”
“Rather than having one word in four or five incorrect, now the error rate is one word in seven or eight,” he wrote on Microsoft’s Web site. Still, he added that this was “the most dramatic change in accuracy” since 1979, “and as we add more data to the training we believe that we will get even better results.”
One of the most striking aspects of the research led by Dr. Hinton is that it has taken place largely without the patent restrictions and bitter infighting over intellectual property that characterize high-technology fields.
“We decided early on not to make money out of this, but just to sort of spread it to infect everybody,” he said. “These companies are terribly pleased with this.”
Referring to the rapid deep-learning advances made possible by greater computing power, and especially the rise of graphics processors, he added:
“The point about this approach is that it scales beautifully. Basically you just need to keep making it bigger and faster, and it will get better. There’s no looking back now.”

958. With Economic Damages Due to Climate Change, Cuba Calls for a Conference

Hurricane Sandy devastated Santiago de Cuba

By Xinhua, November 23. 2012
HAVANA -- Some 84 percent of the total 413 Cuban beaches are eroding because of climate change and inadequate development, experts from the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) said Friday.
The process of erosion "largely responds to the rising of sea level and to the inadequate actions practiced by people for many years," said Jose Luis Juanes, director of the NIO's Department of Coastal Processes.  The actions include sand mining, building of various works over the dunes, and incorrect locations of channels, jetties, piers and docks.
Juanes said 35 beaches of the Caribbean island country are covered by a national monitoring network detecting "morphological variations and other changes that may occur in these ecosystems, due to the effect of climate change."
Cuba is currently developing a macro project to forecast and search measures before sea flooding and erosion in coastal areas for 2050-2100.
Hurricane Sandy, which hit eastern Cuba on Oct. 25, transformed the coast into a rocky shoreline.

by Xinhua, November 24, 2012

HAVANA-- Cuba will host an international conference next May to discuss the effects of hurricane Sandy and issues related to climate change, the official news agency Prensa Latina said on Saturday.
The Sixth International Conference on the Comprehensive Management of Coastal Areas will be held next May in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, which was most devastated by Sandy late last month, said the report, quoting Dr. Ofelia Perez, director of the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies on Coastal Areas (Cemzoc) of the University of Oriente.
The conference will be "a bright opportunity to study the complex circumstances associated to the course of the devastating cyclone in the region," said Perez.
He added that the main issue to be discussed during the meeting will be the integration for the sustainability of coastal ecosystems against climate change.
Perez said that experts from Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, Colombia, Uruguay, Spain, France and Brazil have expressed their interest in attending the conference, which will also cover social, health and environment studies linked to global warming.
Hurricane Sandy, which was considered "historic" by the local meteorologists, hit eastern Cuba on Oct. 25, devastating the city of Santiago de Cuba and leaving 11 people dead.
Over 130,000 houses collapsed in the hurricane disaster, which also caused economic losses of more than 100 million U.S. dollars for the island nation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

957. Finally, a Place in Brazil Where Dogs Can Go for Discreet Sex

Teresa Cristina Carvalho and her shih tzu, Mel, checked out a room at Animalle Mundo Pet. “We’ll return when Mel is in heat,” she said.

By Simon Romero, The New York Times, November 12, 2012

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — Heart-shaped ceiling mirror: check. Curtains drawn against the bright day: check. Red mattress: check.

The establishment that opened here this year has features that demanding clients naturally expect from a love motel. Brazil, after all, is a world leader in these short-stay pleasure palaces, which beckon couples for trysts away from prying eyes with names like Swing, Absinthe and Alibi, and design motifs like medieval castles or of the American Wild West.
But Belo Horizonte’s newest love motel stands apart from the crowd in one crucial aspect. It is for dogs.
Animalle Mundo Pet, an eight-story enterprise in an upscale district in this city of 2.4 million people, introduced its dog motel alongside aisles featuring items like beef-flavored Dog Beer (nonalcoholic), a dog spa with a Japanese ofuro soaking tub, and canine apparel emblazoned with the symbols of the local soccer clubs Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro.
“I adore the romantic feel of this place,” said Andreia Kfoury, 43, a manager at a technology company who peeked inside the Motel Pet one recent morning while she and her husband were on a clothes-buying spree for their Yorkshire terrier, Harley. The couple, who are motorcycle enthusiasts, bought about $500 worth of imported Harley-Davidson brand items for their dog.
“I’m definitely bringing Harley back here when it’s time for him to breed,” a smiling Ms. Kfoury said. “He is very macho, and would be a hit in this place.”
Whether dogs like Harley actually need a romantic curtained-off suite to breed seems beside the point. Some dog owners simply like the concept of a love motel for their amorous pets and are willing to pay about $50 for each session, which Animalle will happily arrange. If it does not work out as planned, some are prepared to pay even more for artificial insemination, another of Animalle’s services.
The beehivelike atmosphere at Belo Horizonte’s pet megastore, which employs a staff of 35 (not counting the veterinarians on call), points not only to Brazil’s surging pet dog population, now about 36 million, but also to major changes in Brazilian society after years of economic growth and shifting demographic patterns. Similar stores thrive in other large Brazilian cities; in São Paulo, a public hospital for dogs and cats has been opened; and some plastic surgeons provide Botox injections for dogs.
Since an economic stabilization program was put into effect in the 1990s, per capita income has risen sharply in Brazil, to about $10,700 a year, according to the World Bank, allowing people to spend more on pets. Families have gotten smaller, with Brazil’s fertility rate declining to less than 1.9 children per woman, from 2.5 in the 1990s, according to government statistics, giving pets new importance in many homes. And life expectancy has climbed to 73, from 67, in that time, adding to the years people may turn to pets as companions.
The emergence of a middle-class Brazil, in particular, has led to a rapid growth in services for dogs and their enthusiastic owners. In some niches, Brazil surpasses the United States and other high-income countries: the nation is No. 1 in per capita ownership of small dogs (weighing 20 pounds or less), with nearly 20 million, according to Euromonitor, a market research company.
“I was tired of practicing law and saw that the dog market was taking off,” said Daniela Guimarães Loures, 28, a Dalmatian owner who invested $1 million with her brother to open Animalle in July. Referring to figures published in Brazilian trade magazines like Pet Business, she said pet shops in the country generate more than $6 billion in total annual revenue.
To open the dog motel, the siblings leased a former children’s hospital in Gutierrez, a leafy area of Belo Horizonte. They now offer lodging for dogs and cats, a pet taxi that picks up and delivers animals, a dog cafe selling delicacies like beef-flavored muffins, and a store selling specialty products like Chic Animale, a perfume for dogs that is produced in Porto Alegre, a city in southern Brazil. It sells for $40 a bottle.
While parts of the establishment cater to owners of cats, fish and rodents like the Mongolian gerbil, the focus is clearly on dogs. Juliana Lima, 24, a psychology student who works at Animalle grooming and bathing dogs, said that demand for the dog motel was robust, even though it was not yet clear whether any of the coupling sessions were set to produce offspring.
“We’ve only been open for a few months,” Ms. Lima said, “and this is a new thing.”
The dog motel taps into a certain fascination in Brazil with short-stay accommodations for sexual activities. Brazil’s “motéis” (the singular in Portuguese is simply “motel”) are similar to American motels in that many are on roadsides and offer easy — and, some customers hope, anonymous — access. But in this country, they share certain features, like their architecture and thematic settings, with Japan’s renowned love hotels.
The dog owners filing into Animalle often cannot resist gawking behind the blinds of Motel Pet. “The ambience here is lovely,” said Teresa Cristina Carvalho, who showed her Shih Tzu puppy, named Mel (“Honey”), the accommodations. “We’ll return when Mel is in heat,” she said, adding that in the meantime she would buy her puppy a bottle of Dog Beer.
“Mel gets agitated with so much stimulation, and needs to relax a bit,” Ms. Carvalho said. “Come to think of it, I need some peace and quiet as well.”

956. U.S. to Be World’s Top Oil Producer in 5 Years, Report Says

By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times, November 12, 2012

The United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer by about 2017 and will become a net oil exporter by 2030, the International Energy Agency said Monday.

That increased oil production, combined with new American policies to improve energy efficiency, means that the United States will become “all but self-sufficient” in meeting its energy needs in about two decades — a “dramatic reversal of the trend” in most developed countries, a new report released by the agency says.
“The foundations of the global energy systems are shifting,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the Paris-based organization, which produces the annual World Energy Outlook, said in an interview before the release. The agency, which advises industrialized nations on energy issues, had previously predicted that Saudi Arabia would be the leading producer until 2035.
The report also predicted that global energy demand would grow between 35 and 46 percent from 2010 to 2035, depending on whether policies that have been proposed are put in place. Most of that growth will come from China, India and the Middle East, where the consuming class is growing rapidly. The consequences are “potentially far-reaching” for global energy markets and trade, the report said.
Dr. Birol noted, for example, that Middle Eastern oil once bound for the United States would probably be rerouted to China. American-mined coal, facing declining demand in its home market, is already heading to Europe and China instead.
There are several components of the sudden shift in the world’s energy supply, but the prime mover is a resurgence of oil and gas production in the United States, particularly the unlocking of new reserves of oil and gas found in shale rock. The widespread adoption of techniques like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has made those reserves much more accessible, and in the case of natural gas, resulted in a vast glut that has sent prices plunging.
The report predicted that the United States would overtake Russia as the leading producer of natural gas in 2015.
The strong statements and specific predictions by the energy agency lend new weight to trends that have become increasingly apparent in the last year.
“This striking conclusion confirms a lot of recent projections,” said Michael A. Levi, senior fellow for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Formed in 1974 after the oil crisis by a group of oil-importing nations, including the United States, the International Energy Agency monitors and analyzes global energy trends to ensure a safe and sustainable supply.
Mr. Levi said that the agency’s report was generally “good news” for the United States because it highlighted the nation’s new sources of energy. But he cautioned that being self-sufficient did not mean that the country would be insulated from seesawing energy prices, since those oil prices are set by global markets.
“You may be somewhat less vulnerable to price shocks and the U.S. may be slightly more protected, but it doesn’t give you the energy independence some people claim,” he said.
Also, he noted, the agency’s projection of United States self-sufficiency assumed that the country would improve gas mileage in cars and energy efficiency in homes and appliances. “It’s supply and demand together that adds up to this striking conclusion,” Mr. Levi said.
Dr. Birol said the agency’s prediction of increasing American self-sufficiency was 55 percent a reflection of more oil production and 45 percent a reflection of improving energy efficiency in the United States, primarily from the Obama administration’s new fuel economy standards for cars. He added that even stronger policies to promote energy efficiency were needed in the United States and many other countries.
The report said that several other factors could also have a large impact on world energy markets over the next few years. These include the recovery of the Iraqi oil industry, which would lead to new supply, and the decision by some countries, notably Germany and Japan, to move away from nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster.
The new energy sources will help the United States economy, Dr. Birol said, providing continued cheap energy relative to the rest of the world. The energy agency estimates that electricity prices will be about 50 percent cheaper in the United States than in Europe, largely because of a rise in the number of power plants fueled by cheap natural gas, which would help American industries and consumers.
But the message is more sobering for the planet, in terms of climate change. Although natural gas is frequently promoted for being relatively low in carbon emissions compared to oil or coal, the new global energy market could make it harder to prevent dangerous levels of warming.
The United States’ reduced reliance on coal will just mean that coal moves to other places, the report says. And the use of coal, now the dirtiest fuel, continues to rise elsewhere. China’s coal demand will peak around 2020 and then stay steady until 2035, the report predicted, and in 2025, India will overtake the United States as the world’s second-largest coal user.
The report warns that no more than one-third of the proved reserves of fossil fuels should be used by 2050 to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, as many scientists recommend.
Such restraint is unlikely without a binding international treaty by 2017 that requires countries to limit the growth of their emissions, Dr. Birol said. He added that pushing ahead with technologies that could capture and store carbon dioxide was also crucial.
“The report confirms that, given the current policies, we will blow past every safe target for emissions,” Mr. Levi said. “This should put to rest the idea that the boom in natural gas will save us from that.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

955. Essay: The Feral Cat Colony on Darby Road: Part 1

By Kamran Nayeri, November 19, 2012
Our Place Is Where We Are Loved by Jan Yatsko

This essay is about cats, mostly feral or "strayed," that I came to know since I moved to my new home in Sebastopol, California, in August 2011.  It has been hard for me to write about them for reasons that will become obvious to the reader.  The essay will appear in three parts. This is part 1.  It is dedicated to all domesticated animals that live their lives at the mercy of the master who we often call "owner" as if these animals are mere commodities as we once sanctioned human slavery by buying and selling human beings (and in some parts of the world, still do).  I hope it will touch the reader's heart and mind as all other good writings in the literature on animal liberation have done for me.  As Henry David Thoreau noted wisely, enslavement of other animals also enslave us. Without animal liberation there can be no human emancipation.  

When I lived in Atenas, Costa Rica, I met wonderful individuals, mostly women, who operated Fundación Ateniense de Ayuda a Animales Abandonados (Atenas Foundation for Helping Abandoned Animals) on volunteer basis.  They conduct ongoing public education including by setting up a stand at the Friday's farmers market (La Feria) and teaching school children. They also provide free  neutering and spaying of dogs and cats.  Until a good home is found for abandoned dogs and cats, these volunteers offer their own homes as temporary shelter for these often sick and mistreated animals.  This organization is registered in Costa Rica as a non-profit (Cedula Juridica #3-006-542026).

A friend, an artist and Atenas resident, Jan Yatsko used her talents to create the painting "Our Place is Where We Are Loved"  (see above) and donated it to the Atenas Foundation for Helping Abandoned Animals.  All of the proceeds from the sale of this painting will go towards food, medicine and veterinary care.  The painting features Canela (Cinnamon) an abandoned and sexually abused female dog with a big loving heart.  When the abandoned and orphaned kittens were placed near her, she started to produce milk and took care of  them until they were adopted.  Canela was also adopted and now the painting that captured her story is looking for a good home. 

The unframed painting 15" X 20" in an acrylic wash on professional grade watercolor paper.  Cost is $300 dollars + shipping within the US.  Interested people can contact Jan Yatsko for more details at Everyone is encourage to visit Jan's website at

Thank you.

Kamran Nayeri

*     *     *
The Feral Cat Colony on Darby Road

Mooshi goes to Sebastopol
At 4:30 on August 20 a year ago, I got up from my makeshift bed on the floor of my emptied out bedroom in Montclair, Oakland, put the laundry basket over Mooshi who was still sleep in her bed, pushed a flattened cardboard book box under her bed and used plenty of dock tape to secure the basket on it.  I then put Mooshi in the back of the Prius and drove an hour and half to Sebastopol, 70 miles northwest of Oakland, California.

The sun was rising when we arrived in our new home. I was certain that Mooshi would like her new house that sits on two acres of land in the countryside 3 miles from downtown Sebastopol, a town of about 8,000 people. But how quickly would she adjust?

I first met Mooshi in the parking lot of Ann Head Building complex, part of the University of California at Berkeley, in spring of 2003. Anna Head Building is located at the northeast corner of a large UCB parking lot (which is now turned into a student dormitory).  Mooshi’s stunning beauty—a calico coat with vivid colors of longish hair and beautiful large and intelligent green eyes that made her she look like some Norwegian Forest cat—made me fall in love at the first sight. It became apparent very soon that Mooshi was feral and lived under the building.  I soon began providing her with water and then food on regular basis every day of the year. A cautious cat, it took us a while to get to know each other but eventually we became best friends.  Every morning Mooshi was waiting for me to arrive at work and provide her breakfast. When she was not there calling her name was enough for her showing up. Most days Mooshi would be sitting on top of the forgotten balcony on the second floor just below my office’s window to watch the parking lot as people were heading home.
Mooshi in her home in Sebastopol, 2012

I learned from others that Mooshi was the sole survivor of a litter born across the street sometimes in late 1999 or early 2000. I have no idea how Mooshi’s mother and siblings perished. Perhaps luck was a factor but Mooshi’s intelligent and caution certainly helped her survive. For example, in dry winter days she spent the mornings sitting on top of the hood of newly parked cars to keep warm.  I could see her getting off a car that was parked for a while and jump on top of the hood of a car that recently arrived. She enjoyed watching people, cars and other animals from a safe distance. And she still does. She was also very agile and a great hunter. I called her Mooshi after seeing her one morning with the tail of a mouse briefly hanging from her mouth. In Farsi, “moosh” is the word for mouse.

By 2006, I was looking for another job and had to take Mooshi home. So, I spent months trying to catch her—after all this time I could not, and still cannot, pick her up and hold her in my arms.  She just does not like it. My coworkers, their spouses, people from UCB Animal Control office tried for months to help me catch Mooshi.  Nothing worked.  A woman from animal control with a kind heart for animals gave me a net with a very long handle to catch Mooshi. The idea was to place something tasty on top of the net and then pull it up to catch her.  It did not work.  The husband of a coworker who was suppose to be very good with animals tired to make Mooshi familiar with his scent by leaving his dirty shirts near her food and water dishes. After a few days, he tried to crawl over to Mooshi and grab her.  It did not work.  Finally, the Animal Control Office lent me a raccoon trap. For this to work I had to stop feeding Mooshi for as long as it takes for her to walk into the trap for her food.  It tool 10 days of not eating her food—something very hard for both of us. But on March 7, 2006 at about 3:30 p.m. Mooshi walked into the trap.  A coworker with a SUV drove us to the veterinary office.  They ran test for serious infections but fortunately found her to be healthy except for infected teeth. They extracted two infected fangs and some bad teeth and let me take her home. Poor Mooshi was very groggy when I took her to the bathroom that became her room for about a week and [laced her on the towels laid down on the floor of the bathtub.  After a week of regaining her strength and coming out of the initial shook of finding herself in an entirely new place she was well enough to move to the smaller bedroom of the house. I began spending more time with her although she was mostly hiding under the bed.  At night, she tried a few times to break through the glass of the window and jump out.  After about six months, I let Mooshi go out.  When she found a hole under my neighbor’s house she crawled in—looked like home to her. However, after a few hours she came out and I was able to get her back into the house.  After a few times, she was finally at home in the sense that she would go out and come back in on her own accord.

This experience made Mooshi to bond with me more than to where she lived. So, after just three days in her new house on Darby Road she was feeling at home. In fact, Mooshi was actually happier living on two acres of land well populated with gophers!  She spent the next six months gopher hunting. The fact the she never had any success did not matter—it was still a lot of fun and exercise.

Darby Road as a neighborhood
I settled in Sebastopol, California, after a five-year quest to live in Cuba and when that seemed impossible in Costa Rica.  There were different sets of reasons for each of these. But a common factor was the suffering of domesticated animals prevalent in those countries and elsewhere in Latin America (I have also seen it in Mexico and Venezuela). Once in Trinidad, Cuba, I found a blind dog dying of starvation/dehydration under the cocktail table I had sat by to enjoy live music.  In Atenas, Costa Rica, where I wished to settle down dogs that are lucky to belong to someone are tied to a post on a short metal chain 24 hours a day for almost all of their lives—they are used as burglary alarm.  In Ensenada, Mexico, it was not uncommon to find dogs with open wounds or dead by the side of the road, hit by a car.  I limit my observation to dog abuse as the Latin culture is a “dog culture!”

Sebastopol, a town of 8,000 people, seemed to offer some of the qualities of Vinales, Cuba, and, Atenas, Costa Rica. I found a house with an open-space architecture and two acres of land for an affordable price outside of town in a valley that is made up of homes with acreage and apple orchards and vineyards.

The house at the end of the Darby Road appealed to me because it is a quite place facing a meadow engulfed by dense growth of oak and other evergreens that surround a big creek; together they serve as a wildlife corridor.

Darby Road slopes down at about 15 degrees from Burnside—a road that snakes around the top of the hills—surrounded by rows of apple and oak trees, shrubs and weeds, including blackberry bushes.  A deep creek runs parallel to it on the left of the road as one drives down the hill, leading into the big creek.  About 1000 feet from the big creek, Darby Road turns left to become still narrower and much more private.  This part of the road is legally privately held, although people take their walks there or walk their dogs. There are only seven houses on this section of the road.  My house is the last just before a locked gate that makes Darby Road a cul-de-sac.  There are homes on either sides of Darby Road as its slopes down towards the big creek. Most are on private side road. There is a huge apple orchard belonging to a middle-age couple, the Valentios, who are small farmers. They operate machinery such as a giant tractor and a big truck. But manual labor—like preparing the trees, pruning, picking apples--and other more demanding work—are done by seasonal workers of Mexican heritage during the spring and fall seasons. Apples are sold for making juice.  There is also a small five-acre family owned pinot noir farm.  A non-descript building opposite of the small vineyard that is known as the “Apple Shack” is home to some half-a-dozen young male Mexian-American farm workers.

There is considerable number of wildlife such as coyotes, deer, wild turkeys, quarrels foxes, rabbits, gophers, moles, rats and mice, weasels, garden and gopher snakes, lizards, a couple of dozens of regional and migratory birds (quail families live under the blackberry bushes), many garden and house insects, and plenty of various grasses, shrubs, and trees that create a very lively surrounding.  My neighbors have cats and dogs, chicken and ducks, and goats. There is also a rescued horse and donkey.  Neighbors talk about “a bobcat” that lives in the woods surrounding the big creek that has taken their chickens. There is also rumor of mountain lions in the area. But coyotes come here and I once saw one walking briskly past the gate to the neighbor’s apple orchard towards the big creek.  Some nights, I wake up from their howl as they are just outside of my window.

The feral cat colony
One morning a few days after I arrived, I was driving to town when I noticed two small orange cats running towards my car from the right hand side of the road. This portion of Darby Road is surrounded by apple orchards with blackberry and other bushes on both sides of the creek to the one side and blackberry bushes that serve as a wall to hide a quite house on the other. It also serves as the location for loading and shipping apples in late summer and early autumn. Rusting disabled farm trucks and machinery, heaps of worn out tires and wasted wood made it clear that it was also a dumping ground.  The cats were coming from a location near a flat bed truck that was half sunken into the soil and partially covered by blackberry bushes. A rusting shell of an old truck stood 100 feet further some 20 feet away from the road.

I pulled the car to the shoulder and stopped. When I stepped out the cats came running to me robbing their faces and sides against me. I immediately noticed than one of the orange cats had a large open wound above her right eye.  They both looked very small, very thin.  I thought they were kittens. I quickly figured out that they are starving.  They wanted food.

I returned home and brought back several cans of cat food with me and a few dishes and a fork. It took them no time to swallow whatever I served. Meanwhile, I noticed that a black cat has also appeared, and in the distance, a calico cat.  The black cat came closer and let me pat him.  I had to get more food.

Thus began my relationship with the feral cat colony on Darby Road.  The first couple of weeks the cats devoured anything I gave them and licked dishes clean.  They were very much undernourished and both orange kitties appeared seriously sick.  The orange kitty with the wound over her right eye was by far the friendliest.  She actually wanted me to pat her as much as she wanted to eat her food. The other orange kitty sounded as if she suffered from an upper-respiratory infection.  She was also skittish but being so starved she allowed met to touch her while she was eating.  I was so busy with these two cats that the black cat and calico cat simply ate their food in a distance.

Orange Kitty Number Two
After the immediate problem of severe malnutrition was alleviated as the cats began to simply eat their food as opposed to swallow it as fast as they could, I decided to take the orange kitty with the open wound to a veterinarian.  I thought that a raccoon or a fox might have bitten the cat and the wound was not healing due to microbial infection.  The idea occurred to me as a raccoon and a fox did indeed appear at feeding times at the beginning.  Apparently, some kind-hearted neighbors threw food for the cats allowing other animals to eat them.  The raccoon and the fox must have learned that they can share in the cat food being left there never mind that it was served during the day and by the road where people drove by. I was hoping a regime of antibiotics might heal the cat’s wound and if the cat did not have a serious transmittable disease, I could take her home. So, I borrowed a trap from a neighbor, made an appointment (subject to being able to trap the cat) with the nearest veterinary practice-- Analy Veterinary Hospital—and on a Thursday morning placed a small amount of food on a plate deep inside the trap, set the trap, and waited for the orange kitty with the wound to show up. She usually came first. However, the second orange kitty that usually did not show up early and sometimes at all showed up and walked directly into the trap so I closed it manually. 

We registered the cat as the Orange Kitty Number One.  The cat was very docile. Dr. Baldwin was able to examine her without any difficulty.  The tests for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) were negative. She was given a slow-release antibiotic shot to treat her upper respiratory infection and release to me to take home.  I also learned that she was female and spayed, probably between 9 to 11 years old—an old age for a feral cat. Almost all her teeth and half her tongue were missing probably due to a blow to the head either by an accident (e.g. a car hit her) or by someone kicking her in the head.  I learned later that she was also almost deaf—whether she lost her hearing due to the trauma to her head or she got into an accident because she could not hear well will remain an unknown.  The notion that someone could have brutalized the cat is not so far fetched.  George, a male orange cat, apparently orange cats are often male, that spent his last two and half years of his life being taken care of by my housemate and I in Montclair, Oakland, carried a booby gun pellet in his body—an X-Ray taken just before he died showed it.  Apparently, a neighborhood kid target practiced using George. 

I took the orange kitty home.  I named her Sayda, a woman’s name in Gillaki languae.  I had prepared the larger bathroom and walking closet for her. 

The next day, I easily trapped the other orange cat. My neighbor who came to help feed the other cats was amazed at how trusting this sweet cat was. We signed her in as Orange Kitty Number Two.

Dr. Baldwin had no trouble examining her either. However, she almost immediately suggested that the wound that did not heal was probably advanced skin cancer.  To examine her further, she had to use anesthesia.  I left the cat with her and went to sit by the phone at home. A call came by mid-day.  Dr. Baldwin told me that the cat was bleeding under anesthesia probably because she had eaten rodents with rat poison.  Rat poison is a potent anticoagulant—it kills rodents by causing severe internal bleeding. She said she would do her best to save her.  A little later she called to say that bleeding had stopped but lab results have come in showing she is infected with FIV. She thought that explained the wound. Because the wound was not operable and the cat seemed to be in late stages of skin cancer and feline AIDS she recommended that I give her permission to end her life while she was under anesthesia.  Her suggestion was a rational choice—the cat probably would not have lived much longer and would die a painful death. She could also transmit the FIV to other cats. I fought back tears as I I give her “my consent” while thinking whom am I to put someone who I just recently met to death?

I left her a message for my neighbor who had helped me in the morning about this tragic outcome. When she came to comfort me I could not hold back my tears no more. I lost a friend that I had not yet quite known.  The little sweet cat had made a warm spot in my heart for the rest of my life. All the pains of my decision to put down Nuppy, one of my closest friends and perhaps my most important teacher, in 2008 returned to me.

My only consolation was that of the two sisters I was able to save one.

Sayda turned out to be a vocalizer.  She cried when she used the box, ate her food and she sometimes in the middle of the night.  That worried me.  At the same time, she ate with gusto, a good sign of her desire to live and get stronger.  She also began to enjoy some other comforts of living at home instead of under the blackberry bushes.  Within a few days, she began sleeping in her doughnut shaped bed.

About a week after Sayda came into the house a friend who I had not seen for about about two decades came for a weeklong visit from Iowa.  I had prepared the loft for my visitors. To make sure he could sleep well I spent a number of hours each night sleeping with Sayda in the walk-in closet. This seemed to comfort Sayda as she sometimes curled up in my armpit and fall sleep and sometimes slept just above my head on the carpet. She also learned to enjoy being brushed—and she does need it as her fur forms mats. Sayda’s acceptance of my companionship was fostered by the small size of the closet and the bathroom.  Each time I reached out to touch her initial reaction was to recoil. But once she was touched she relaxed and sometimes even purred softly.
Sayda in her walk-in closet on my bedding, October 2011
After my friend left, I began to leave the bathroom door open so Sayda can walk into the large living room full of light coming through large picture windows. Sayda did come to the door but would not cross into the living room. After a while, I brought her in my arms to the living room to sit by my on the sofa. This was fine as long as I sat by her.  As soon as I moved to do something elsewhere in the house Sadya ran back to the closet.  She did not feel safe in open spaces. 

Meanwhile, Mooshi was curious about this visitor (Moosh is curious and very intelligent).  Whenever she tried to stick her head inside Sayda’s turf she was hissed at and chased away by Sayda. As much as Sayda is docile towards humans she is aggressive towards other cats. Of course, she is bluffing with her small body and bone structure.  I still do not understand how small cats sometimes bully large ones; female cats bully male cats, etc.

After a few weeks living in the walk-in closet and the bathroom, Sayda discovered the loft.  The shape of the loft follows the A-frame structure of the house. The ceiling slopes on both sides. On has to be careful not to hit one’s head against the downward sloping ceiling when walking laterally. On each side where the ceiling become particularly low wooden moveable walls encase spaces that can be used as storage. The front and back of the loft face huge picture windows with beautiful view of the meadow and woodland on one side and the neighbor’s large garden on the other. 

One day, I could not find Sayda in her closet. As the bathroom door was always left open I figured she must have gone somewhere. Sometimes, she would go to my bedroom and hide behind or under the bed.  However, I could not find her anywhere on the main floor. So, I began looking in the loft.  I finally found her hiding in a dark corner of the attic. From that day she made the loft her turf.  At night she ventured downstairs to use her box, which was still in the master bathroom.  Once I realized Sayda is going to stay upstairs I took her box to the attic so she did not need to come downstairs to use it. 

Sayda spent the next couple of months hiding behind and under the bed or in dark corners of the attic.  I was no longer able to touch her or brush her. She would runs away.  So, she was putting up with me while in the closet. There was nowhere to hide there.

One night frustrated by Sayda’s behavior, I laid on my belly on the carpet facing her under the bed and talked to her for about 10 minutes.  I asked her why is she playing this game. Are I not the same person who held her, fed her, brushed her?  Why is she now acting as if I am a threat to her? I told her that she should accord herself more comfort. Why spent most her time day and night under the bed as opposed to elsewhere in the loft? I then went downstairs to go to sleep for the night.

I do not know what might account for it, but the next day I found Sayda sitting on the carpet by the bed and not under it.  She never went back to sleeping or hiding under the bed. 

A couple of month later I had a similar monologue with her this time telling her that I have lost my patience with her not ever coming downstairs.  There is sunshine there and she could be in the company of Mooshi and Sunny (I will tell her story in Part 2) and me.
Sayda on her Iranian rug cushion on the main floor of the house. spring of 2012

The next day, Sayda came downstairs and sat on an Iranian rug cushion a couple of feet away from my workstation.  Ever since Sayda comes downstairs every morning after her breakfast and remains there catching the sun light as late as the mid-day.  Sometimes she also comes down at night to sit with the rest of us as I watch a movie or relax on the sofa listening to jazz with Sunny on my chest or legs.

Sayda has also ventured outside a few times.  However, it is clear she feel very unsafe because she is almost deft and is constantly surprised by people and animals showing up in her field of vision blurred by cataract.   

For the first 8 months Sayda’s health seemed to vacillate between poor to somewhat better. Her appetite was not great and seemed to vacillate.  She had formed a large mat on her back that obviously bothered her.  She seemed unwell and showed obsessive/compulsive behavior by licking fur off behind both her back legs and by licking the carpet.  She also exhibited behavior as if she was constipated or had problem passing down her food.  One day all of the sudden she stopped eating. This went on for a few days. I got worried.

One morning when she was sunbathing downstairs, I put a laundry basket over her, slipped a flattened book box under her and taped the basket over it secure. I took her to the veterinary hospital.  Dr. Cloninger found no mass in Sayda’s intestines. But she did find her to suffer from a blood infection common to feral cats.  She gave her a strong shot of antibiotic and sent her home with a two-week regiment of antibiotic. I put the pills in treat-like pill pockets and Sayda eat them gladly. 

Within a few days she felt better except for the onset of diarrhea.  I gave her probiotics for cats.  After 10 days, I called Dr. Cloninger and she agreed to stop the antibiotics.  Sayda’s appetite and behavior improved, She actually put on a little weight—she is still very small.  She does not show obsessive/compulsive behavior and she is not sleeping as much—although she does sleep a lot.  I figure this may be normal for a deft cat.  Also, she has lived about 10 years as a feral cat—most feral cats die within a few years. She is an old lady with disabilities and trauma of a hard life that limit her abilities to enjoy the pleasures of everyday life. Sayda still has nightmares and wakes up crying loud. Only when I rush upstairs to talk to her does she calms down and perhaps fall sleep again.

All the same, Sayda is now part of our household.

To be continued: Part II: Lulu, Calico and Sunny